Friday, January 04, 2008

No Country for Bold Women

(Photo Credit: Doug Mills, New York Times; Senator Hillary Clinton concedes defeat in Iowa Democratic caucuses, 1/3/08)

The morning after Iowa, Moose sits in the red chair, reading the papers, fielding phone calls, loathing NBC’s chief bloviator, Chris Matthews, to whom she unwisely subjected herself for far too many hours last night. Matthews was so over-the-top in his gleeful anticipatory dancing upon the grave of the Clinton campaign that Moose entertained unkind visions of Anton Chigurh, the sociopathic killing machine who marches through the austere landscape of No Country for Old Men, taking aim at Matthews’s fat head with that strange cattle gun that is his weapon of choice. Forgive Moose her uncharacteristically mean thoughts, but even Keith Olbermann seemed horrified by his colleague’s emphatic pronouncements of doom for Clinton. (Other viewers shared Moose's disgust, by the way.) Had it not been for butch goddess Rachel Maddow, who was also on MSNBC and sanely pointed out that 2/3s of Democratic voters rejected each of the party’s front runners in Iowa, Moose would have turned off the TV and gone to bed by 9:30, but she cannot walk away from Rachel Maddow.

June Star calls in from New Jersey to declare, not gloatingly but matter of factly, that Barack Obama’s stunning victory signals the start of a juggernaut that cannot be stopped. Moose demurs from that assessment, though she admits to being impressed by the size of the victory and by Obama’s success with young and independent voters. (Details here.) Moose acknowledges Obama gave a stirring victory speech, a soaring bit of oratory that quickened her pulse and made her palms a little sweaty. (See Obama's speech here.) But, she says to June Star, has anyone noticed that the politics and the policies don’t match the rhetoric, that even if he’s talking like RFK and MLK his proposals are warmed-over versions of stuff out of the Democratic Losership Council? No, June Star replies. Nobody is noticing because nobody cares right now. Voters are hungry for change, and they want to be inspired. I know, Moose says. Me, too, but surely the substance matters, and aren’t you furious with the press’s knee-jerk hatred of Clinton and their eagerness to declare her campaign DOA? Of course, June Star says, but, oh, shoot, I’ve reached my destination. I’ll call you back later.

(NB: Roxie’s World does not condone the use of cell phones while driving. Let the record show that June Star uses a perfectly legal hands-free device for chatting while negotiating the highways of the Garden State, and Moose always urges her to pay proper attention to traffic as they minutely dissect the latest developments in politics and pop culture.)

Moose hangs up the phone. She puts down the papers and stares out the back window, thinking, for some strange reason, of the late 1860s. Moose, as I have told you before, is weird and given at times to pondering history’s maddening tendency to repeat itself. She is musing upon that nasty period in the history of American civil rights when the coalition between abolitionists and women’s rights advocates that worked so effectively to bring about the end of slavery fell apart when abolitionists agreed to separate the causes of black and women’s suffrage and support the 14th and 15th Amendments, which secured voting rights for black men and introduced the distinction of gender into the Constitution for the first time. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and others in the women’s suffrage movement felt betrayed and abandoned by their old allies, including William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass, and relations between the advocates of women’s equality and racial equality were severely strained. In the end, American women would wait another fifty years to gain universal suffrage with the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. That painful bit of history is a powerful example of what happens when race and sex are pitted against each other, which happens all too often in American politics and in the crude framings of events (as allegories, melodramas, endless repetitions of a reductive Showdown at Race/Gender Gap) in the American media. Moose sees that happening everywhere in the coverage of Clinton v. Obama, and it drives her crazy.

And yet: Moose is thinking about all the talk she’s heard about America not being “ready” for a black president. She never bought that, but now she’s wondering if it isn’t possible that the country isn’t ready for a woman president. Could it be that misogyny is a more potent force in the electorate than racism is, or is that the wrong question, a question that shows Moose herself is caught up in the trap of pitting race against gender? Is it simply that the magnetic Obama is a better candidate than the overly cautious Clinton? Or that the Clinton campaign, in thrall to pollster Mark Penn, misread voters’ moods and placed too much emphasis on the candidate’s experience rather than on the exciting prospect of putting a woman in the White House (as president) for the first time? (That point is made deep into this Wa Po analysis of what happened to Clinton in Iowa.) (Just to prove that these are not [all] rhetorical questions, we’ll offer an emphatic YES on that last one and urge Clinton to un-burden herself of the over-rated Penn as quickly as possible. Fire him, Hillary, and throw a little bit of your caution to the wind. Let voters see that you want this thing, and they’ll start wanting it for you. Talk to your husband about the advantages of running as the underdog.)

It’s entirely possible that all of this gnashing of teeth and talk of changing courses is premature. The bigger story out of Iowa in the opinion of the political division here at Roxie’s World is the triumph of the terrifying yet affable Mike Huckabee in the Republican straw poll, a result that throws the race on that side into true chaos. If Clinton comes back in five days and wins New Hampshire, Matthews and the other vampire slayers will have to admit that not much has changed and the old girl isn’t dead yet. The candidate herself was preternaturally calm last night in the face of defeat. She, too, gave a wonderful speech. (See it here.) She was gracious to Obama and the rest of the Democratic field and appropriately exultant on the size of the turnout for Democrats. She also seemed quietly yet fiercely determined to carry on the fight for the nomination. She has the resources and the organization to do so, so perhaps the prognosticators should hold their tongues and wait and see what happens when the race moves into bigger states. She’s got work to do, but there’s no reason to think she can’t do it.

In the meantime, we’ve taken steps here in Roxie’s World to assure that Moose’s mood stabilizes as the race unfolds. She’s been forbidden to watch any show that has Chris Matthews on it, and we’re not letting her get anywhere near livestock equipment stores. Sweeney Todd is next on the list of films she and Goose are supposed to see, so we may need to limit her access to barbershops as well, but fear not, readers. The old dog is on a short leash for the duration, and she’ll stand by Hillary, as she did by Bill, until the last dog dies.


  1. Anonymous5:32 PM EST

    Hey, Roxie! I'm sorry that your candidate didn't do as well as expected. Thom Hartman had a very good analysis on Progressive Talk 1260, observing that basically, given that what's happening now is the collection of delegates, Obama is a couple of delegates ahead of Hillary. Not insuperable.

    We here at the House of Ironical Beagles are in mourning, because Dodd has dropped out, AND WE WANT OUR CONSTITUTION BACK, DAMMIT! (Not that it does me personally much good, but it's apparently fairly important for my human.) And Dodd was focusing on that.

    The libertarians at Unqualified Offerings have suggested that some good can be gotten out of this if we can just get Dodd into the post now occupied (with truly impressive ineptness) by Harry Reid.

  2. Very SANE post, Roxie. This is truly one of those "if you can keep your head when everyone about you is losing theirs. . ." (or however it goes; you know, that Kipling thing). I was truly shocked by the nasty glee exhibited by Chris Matthews. He is not welcome on any television in this house.

    And I think you make a wise point about the race/gender business. The one thing stupid Matthews pointed out was that it took this country far longer to give women the vote than it took to give black men the vote. I'll add that while so many have been focused for years now on Toni Morrison's PLAYING IN THE DARK, they've forgotten to muse on her PARADISE, which makes clear how deep and broad are the discriminations based on gender. I'm just baffled that progressives are choosing the more-right-leaning candidate. My my -- what's up with that?

    Much love & peace,
    --Your Goose

  3. Anonymous6:20 PM EST

    Thanks, Roxie, for some wisdom in the face of a very confusing day! We here on the other side of the world haven't been able to make sense of Iowa -- not even a new friend who hails from that strange place.

    Your historical note on the 1860s strikes me as a brilliant insight. Perhaps the Post might be interested in publishing an old terrier's thoughts?

  4. Oh, our Candy Man weighs in from halfway round the world to let us know how widespread the confusion is -- How wonderful! And how wonderful to know he has an actual Iowan there in Oz to help him fathom the strangeness of it all. If only the Post were open to an old dog's musings on politics, history, race, and gender. Perhaps my legions of loyal fans could launch a campaign. I mean, please, if Kristol can go to the Times, why not Roxie to the Post???

    Moose is loving your FB posts, Candy Man -- looks as if you are having a swell time!

  5. Anonymous9:03 PM EST

    A letter from Hillary arrived in the inbox today; it was titled simply, "Last Night" --

    What a fantastic title that is, the humor, the intimacy, the humanness, the shared suffering, the sweet splendor of defeat!

    Okay, you all may have received the same post if you are subbing to Hillary's newsletter, but anyway for the record, here is what she had to say, or at least the first few graphs:

    Let's Make History

    "We've got more work to do." That was my first reaction as I saw last night's election results come in. And today in New Hampshire, I'm pounding the pavement, looking for every last vote in next Tuesday's primary.

    "With your help, we can make it clear that the Democratic Party needs a nominee who can go the distance in a long, challenging campaign to win the White House, and that the American people need a president who can be an effective champion for them on day one.

    "Iowa sounded the opening bell of this campaign. New Hampshire is only four days away -- and the pace only quickens from there.

    "The stakes couldn't be any higher. Events couldn't be moving any faster. With everything on the line, let's show them what we're made of."


  6. I'm sorry, but when did Iowa become the barometer for national politics?

  7. In cynical moments I have been saying to close friends, harking back to the very historical precedent you mention, that Americans will elect a black man sooner than they will elect a white woman. My Republican cousin from Louisiana was up here last spring interning for Trent Lott and he said that he would be willing to vote for Obama but NEVER Hillary Clinton; ditto for many of my male students. Yet I honestly think that some of this bias is, as you suggest, about Hillary as a person as much as it is about her as a woman--after all, even Louisiana recently elected a female governor.

  8. This post is just but one of the many reasons I love you and Moose and Goose... Matthews was a total ass, Edwards was just as smug and smarmy as ever, and Hillary was very gracious. But it is early in the race. And I think she will win New Hampshire. So what did you think of No Country for Old Men?

  9. Yes, we intended to mention Edwards and the whole smarm thing, but we got distracted by our musings on history. We thought it was an amazingly ungracious speech, and we are deeply disappointed by Elizabeth Edwards these days, too.

    As for No Country for Old Men, well, brilliant filmmaking, awesome performances, a compelling story -- and it left us completely cold! It was a little too allegorical to make us feel connected to the characters, perhaps. Juno, on the other hand, which we saw the next night, was delightful and utterly captivating. We're ready to jump right on the Diablo Cody bandwagon!

  10. Roxie -- first of all, I love and miss you.

    Okay, with that settled... Did you see how Elizabeth Edwards literally dismantled Chris Matthews yesterday on Hardball? Actually left him speechless. I was on a treadmill at the gym at the time and found myself cheering out loud, right there with my sweaty compatriots!

    Do you really find Edwards to be more smug than Obama or Clinton? I must be missing that one. I find them all smug. Maybe my unrepentant leftist ways clouded my political judgement as every cry against corporate greed and every proclamation that corporations won't come to the table to give up their power voluntarily made me very glad that he is in this race.

    And have you noticed that the country wants change, and that surrounding yourself with the likes of Bill, Madeline Albright, etc. does not inspire confidence in that regard? The young folks in my life are just not all that inspired by references to the 90s.

    I'm getting old now (is 58 old? feels like it right now) and I grew up in the generation that always thought it would be young and own the political culture. We had a certain framework, a paradigm, through which to view our world in the 60s and 70s, back when there was a Cold War, a bipolar world struggling through the East-West divide, and liberation movements galore. Now I have discovered that there is a generation growing up behind me, a couple of them really, that does not see things in the terms in which we grew up, for whom this framework of reality and social struggle has no resonance at all.

    When I am with young Obama supporters, I can assure you that their political lens is not about race or gender, despite the likes of people like Matthews (he is of MY generation, after all). It is, sad as it may be to admit, about that very thing we once believed in -- throwing off the yoke of the older generation. After all, what did they bring us (or, more self-reflectively, what did WE bring them) -- the Iraq war, for one, and I think I tried to tell you that supporters of the Iraq war, whether past or current, and of keeping troops there for years, would have a hard time getting into the White House. Also in the list, a ruined planet, mindboggling indebtedness, breathtaking concentration of wealth, grim prospects for their future, to name a few reasons why young voters want 'out with the old.'

    That said, I agree with you so much about Obama. You have been around long enough, old furry friend, to know that inspiration without content is a dangereous thing indeed. If Obama wins the White House, I fear the dashing of that very enthusiasm that brought him there as he turns out to be another centrist pro-business Democrat, kind of like the Clintons.

    I, too, am sorry to see Dodd go so soon. We needed a strong human rights voice in the mix.

    That's my analysis of the moment, Roxie. Happily I can say, see you soon. I will look forward to the nose lick.

    Go Terp Women!!!


  11. Anonymous2:23 PM EST

    I want to chime in to agree with one of Sarah's points. (And, as you all know, nobody chimes in like a beagle!) Possibly apropos is a dim memory of a pick-up line from an old movie: Our Heroine is waiting for a friend at a cafe. A man, seeing her alone at a table (must have been a 1950's movie) gestures at the empty place at her table.

    Man: "Are you waiting for someone?" Our Heroine (stiffly): "yes, as a matter of fact."
    Man (what what he probably thinks is an ingratiating smile): "Am I him?"

    I didn't catch her reply because my human immediately started making retching noises, but I gather it wasn't favorable.

    OK, so Our Heroine WAS waiting for someone--in fact, if memory serves, it was even someone with the same chromosome count--but it sure wasn't that guy. The point is that many people are waiting for a woman to serve as president. Hillary may just not be the one they're waiting for.

    No one should discount anti-female bias. But just as your objection to Edwards isn't based on race, sex, or social class, people who might enthusiastically vote for a woman may actually be treating Hillary WITHOUT bias: they wouldn't vote for her if she were a man, and they're not going to change that just because she's a woman.

  12. Anonymous6:27 PM EST

    Just a quick note on Edwards -- I don't know about smug, but "smarmy" really does capture my response to him these days. I didn't used to feel that way, but now I can hardly stand to listen to him -- it's just a certain quality in his tone and rhetoric that (thankfully) I completely don't find in Obama or Clinton.

  13. "Inspiration without content is a dangereous thing indeed" -- I hereby nominate this line as the most brilliant comment ever made in Roxie's World! My wise Aunt Margie hits the proverbial nail on the head. You are also right about the important (and not yet appreciated or understood) role generational conflict is playing in this election. Clearly, the Clinton team wasn't (isn't) ready for it, and neither is the bloviating class. They are all so used to sitting back and saying, "Kids don't vote, so you might as well ignore their concerns." We'll have to see how it all plays out and how the kids will react to a President Obama's centrism.

    P.S. We still think gender bias is a factor for a lot of voters, because we think it's what underlies a lot of the "I just don't like or trust Hillary" stuff. Young voters may be different, but the level of vitriol among some of the over-40 set seems to come from a deep, irrational bias.

  14. I can see what you mean about No Country For Old Men... I still think it is amazing... but I LOVED JUNO too. It really is one of the smartest scripts about women coming of age that I have ever seen... and really the only woman centered movie that excelled this year... No Movie Year for Any Women... very male centered year, and all of the allegorical films centering on America's loss of identity are really only about men. Women hardly register at all in No Country For Old Men, The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, or There Will Be Blood... These are all great movies though... still I think sexism runs a lot deeper in America than people are willing to admit, and this does impact Hillary's campaign.


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